Head of state
King Abdul Halim Mu’adzam Shah (replaced King Mizan Zainal Abidin in December)
Head of government
Najib Tun Razak
Death penalty
28.9 million
Life expectancy
74.2 years
Under-5 mortality
6.1 per 1,000
Adult literacy
92.5 per cent

The authorities unleashed a brutal campaign of repression when a mass movement for fair elections swept the capital in July. More than 1,600 people were detained after a violent crackdown on the peaceful demonstration. In September, the government announced its intention to replace the Internal Security Act (ISA) with new security laws.


Najib Tun Razak began his third year as Prime Minister. Although he had until March 2013 to call a general election, preparations by officials signalled plans for a poll in early 2012. Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim faced prison and a ban from political office as his politically motivated trial on criminal sodomy charges neared its end.

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Freedom of assembly and association

When the Bersih (“Clean”) movement held a march in Kuala Lumpur in July, 1,667 peaceful protesters were arbitrarily arrested and temporarily detained. Police beat protesters and fired tear-gas canisters directly into the crowds, injuring protesters including at least two opposition members of parliament. Before the rally, the authorities arrested dozens of people for alleged involvement in Bersih, which the government declared illegal on 2 July.

  • The government prevented Hindraf Makkal Sakthi (Hindraf), an NGO which advocates for equal rights for Malaysians of Indian origin, and the affiliated Human Rights Party, from holding an anti-racism march in Kuala Lumpur in February. In April, criminal trials began for 52 Hindraf members charged with belonging to a banned organization.
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Arbitrary arrests and detentions

In a surprise announcement in September, Prime Minister Najib said his government would seek to repeal the ISA. However, repeal was deferred until March 2012, and the government planned to replace the ISA with a law which would likewise allow for indefinite detention without trial. In November, the authorities detained another 13 people under the ISA.

  • In August, the authorities released eight immigration officers detained under the ISA. Their arrest in 2010 was the country’s first for human trafficking, but the eight were never charged.
  • In September, the government deported an ISA detainee to Singapore, where he was held under a similar internal security law. In May, the authorities arrested Abdul Majid Kunji Mohamad, a Singaporean national, for suspected links with the Philippine separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front. He was also deported to ISA detention in Singapore (see Singapore entry).
  • Six activists were held in administrative detention at a secret location in July. All were officers of the Socialist Party, including Jeyakumar Devaraj, a member of parliament. They were arrested in Penang in June en route to a Bersih event, and released at the end of July.
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Freedom of expression

The government suppressed criticism by requiring licences for publications and threatening critics with criminal prosecution under the Sedition Act.

  • In February, Malaysiakini, a leading independent news portal, challenged the government’s rejection of its application for a permit to publish a newspaper. In September, the Home Ministry replied that permission to publish a newspaper was a “privilege” rather than a right. The day before the Bersih rally on 9 July, Malaysiakini’s website was disabled by a cyber attack.
  • In October, police investigated law professor Aziz Bari under the Sedition Act for an online posting which criticized the Sultan of Selangor’s support for a church raid by the state Islamic religious police. He was also investigated by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission, and suspended from his post at the International Islamic University.
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Torture and other ill-treatment

People continued to be subjected to systematic torture and other ill-treatment through judicial caning, a punishment imposed for more than 60 penal offences.

  • In June, the Home Minister revealed that 29,759 foreign workers were caned for immigration offences between 2005 and 2010; 60 per cent of them were Indonesians.
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Refugees and migrants

In August, the Australian High Court ruled that a bilateral agreement to swap refugees between Australia and Malaysia was invalid. Under the plan, Australia was to send to Malaysia 800 asylum-seekers who had reached Australia by sea. In exchange, Australia would have resettled 4,000 refugees from Malaysia. The ruling prohibited Australia from deporting the asylum-seekers on the basis that Malaysia, which had not ratified the UN Refugee Convention, lacked sufficient legal guarantees for refugee protection (see Australia entry).

  • In April, detained migrants rioted at the Lenggeng Detention Centre near Kuala Lumpur. A police investigation cited poor detention conditions and indefinite detention as some of the causes for the incident. Undocumented migrants in Malaysia are routinely detained and, if convicted, face prison sentences and judicial caning.
  • On 30 May, Malaysia and Indonesia signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on migrant domestic workers. The MoU allowed migrant Indonesian domestic workers in Malaysia to keep their passports and have a weekly rest day. However, it did not set a minimum wage or tackle debt bondage.
  • In August, Malaysia forcibly returned at least 11 Chinese nationals of Uighur ethnicity to China after arresting them in a targeted police raid. China had been pressuring various states, including those in Asia, to return Uighurs of Chinese nationality. Malaysia violated customary international law against refoulement by returning them to China, which has a record of torturing Uighurs.
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Death penalty

The Malaysian government did not publish statistics on death sentences or executions. However, the authorities rejected calls to impose a moratorium on executions, and Malaysian courts regularly imposed new death sentences.

  • In response to a parliamentary question in April, Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said that 441 people had been executed since 1960. He said that 696 prisoners were on death row as of February 2011. The majority of death sentences were for drug offences (69 per cent), followed by murder (29 per cent). Both offences carried mandatory death sentences.
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International justice

In March, Malaysia’s Cabinet decided to accede to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC); however this remained pending.

  • In June, the government announced that Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir would participate in an economic forum in Malaysia. Omar Al-Bashir was subject to ICC arrest warrants for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur. Law Minister Nazri Aziz urged the government to rescind its invitation, citing Malaysia’s decision to join the ICC. The visit was cancelled.
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